Are you heading to Yellowstone in May and unsure of what to expect? 

It is safe to say that May is a favorite month to visit Yellowstone National Park. The interior roads open to all, newborn wildlife can be found in every corner and the sights and sounds of the start of spring in the Rocky Mountains dazzle all who visit. While not everything is open and accessible for most of May, the adventure opportunities. 

May is the 5th most visited month for Yellowstone and is the start of the true busy season. The deeper into the month we get, the more busy it becomes. By the end of the month, it will begin to feel more like summer. While it may be spring where you live, the month of May is far from wildflower blooms and lush grasses. It will snow in the park in May, many trails will be snow-covered the entire month, and some roads will not be open until mid-month. 

With so much change occurring in Yellowstone National Park during May, I will try to help you navigate it all as best as possible in the following sections. If anything is missing or you want more information, please do not hesitate to contact me. Apologies for the length of this, but this is one of the only places you’ll find all of this information in one spot.

Open Yellowstone National Park Amenities for May

So I was going to write a long list of when things open all around the park, but I was told that it would make this post too long and unreadable. Instead, I made that information accessible on its own page, which can be found by clicking here. On the page, you’ll find the dates that restaurants, lodges, campgrounds, and even horseback riding tours start in Yellowstone. 

Please know that specific dates may vary, so it’s advisable to check for the most up-to-date information before planning your trip.

Yellowstone Road Opening Dates in May

To start the month of May, the only roads open in Yellowstone National Park are found on the north and west sides of the park. West Yellowstone is open, letting you drive to Old Faithful, Canyon, Mammoth, and out to Lamar Valley. The north entrance in Gardiner is also open, as it is all year long, year-round, you can take this road and drive out to Lamamr Valley and Cooke City. In May, you can also now drive down to Norris and over to Canyon, or down to Norris and Old Faithful. You can also find this information on the Yellowstone Park Road’s site.

On May 3rd, 2024, the road from Canyon down to Fishing Bridge is scheduled to open, as is the east entrance to the aforementioned open areas of the park. A week later, the south entrance is scheduled to open, as are all the remaining park roads except for Dunraven Pass. Dunraven is currently slated to open on May 24th.

The Beartooth Highway is scheduled to open on Memorial Day weekend if the weather cooperates. “The Plug,” which connects Cooke City to Wyoming and the Chief Joseph Highway is scheduled to open sometime in May. I will update this if/when they announce a day.

What is Yellowstone’s Traffic Like in May

There is a myth that if you visit Yellowstone before June or after August, you’ll have a mostly empty park. While that may have been true a decade or two ago, when you visit in May, you will encounter backups in the park and even lines to enter the park. 

The earlier in May you arrive, the less the crowds in and out of the park will be. Weekdays will also be better than weekends. By mid-month, bear jams and bison jams can snarl traffic for an hour or two. On the weekends, especially in the morning, the entrance at West Yellowstone can take over an hour to go through. 

To properly maneuver in a bison jam, please read this article.

Yellowstone Wildlife Watching in May

A grizzly in a May snowstorm.

May is hands-down one of the best months for wildlife watching in Yellowstone. The wildlife potential is beyond belief, with once-in-a-lifetime wildlife-watching moments found with ease at pullouts and along the road. However, please know that both stopping your car on the road to take pictures and exiting your vehicle to approach an animal is against park rules. 

Baby bison, called red dogs, will dot the landscape, frolicking in the prairie. Newborn bear cubs will be climbing trees near their mom, while aggressive male bears will be trying to find a mate. Newborn elk and pronghorn will also be seen, as will coyote pups, and badgers with kits. You’ll also have a chance to see wolves near their dens, with a potential for glimpses and glances of pups experiencing the wilds of Yellowstone for the first time. You’ll also see hawks and eagles, pelicans and swans, and countless other gorgeous birds. 

I could go on and on about what you might see, but instead of doing that here, I strongly recommend picking up my wildlife-watching guidebook to Yellowstone National Park. It is based on my decades of searching for and finding animals in the park.

Hiking in Yellowstone During May

Chances are, you are going to be coming from someplace that is not the Rocky Mountains when visiting Yellowstone. The reason it is important to note this is because most places around the country are snow-free in May and the hiking season is in full swing. Not in Yellowstone. Here, the average elevation is 8,000 feet above sea level and more often than not, most non-boardwalk trails are not snow-free until June. 

You’ll also need to always carry bear spray with you on any and every trail in the park. Even the short boardwalk paths. Always have it easily accessible and know how to use it. Do not put it inside your backpack, as you will not have time to get it out if you need to use it. Here is a handy website about bear spray. 

You can still walk most of the trails in the geyser basins without snow, but please still expect less-than-ideal conditions. In 2023, the Norris Geyser Basin boardwalks and trails didn’t open until June, due to too much snow. The snowpack in 2024, as of the time of publication, is not nearly as high, but that doesn’t mean it won’t dump snow well into May. 

For trail conditions, please check the backcountry situation report on the Yellowstone National Park website, or reach out to me directly and ask about a trail you are considering. I am out on the trails every single week. 

If you would like to have a guide on a hike, you have come to the right place. I offer a myriad of guided hiking tours in Yellowstone National Park and will be stoked to show you around. Click here to see what I am currently offering. 

If you’d rather find your own hike, I have also written a guidebook of my favorite trails in and around Yellowstone. You can pick that up here.

Typical Weather for May

May is a month when the weather is hard to predict. It is not as chaotic as April, but it still is wild. It can snow, rain, thunderstorm, and be sunny and super warm all on the same day. The park is also huge, so the weather in one area or another will vary drastically. Because of the wild weather swings possible each day, you’ll need to pack for a little bit of everything. 

May is also one of the wetter months for the park, averaging 12 days of precipitation. This can fall in rain, snow, hail, or all of them. Because of the chance of snow, please know that the park may temporarily close roads if conditions are too bad. These closures rarely last longer than 12 hours. 

Highs are generally between 60 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit but can have swings of 10 or 20 degrees on either side of that. It will also get cold at night, with temperatures often dropping to the 30s or 20s Fahrenheit. The good news is that temperatures in the single digits and temperatures below zero Fahrenheit are extremely rare.

Camping in Yellowstone in May

The following are the campground operating dates for 2024. Please note that rules and regulations vary from campground to campground. Please visit the Yellowstone National Park Campground website for more details. 

Bridge Bay Campground: Opens May 17th, 2024, and closes September 2nd, 2024

Canyon Campground: Opens May 31st, 2024, and closes September 14th, 2024

Fishing Bridge RV Park: Opens May 10th, 2024, and closes October 12th, 2024

Grant Village Campground: Opens June 7th, 2024, and closes September 7th, 2024

Indian Creek Campground: Opens June 14th, 2024, and closes September 8th, 2024

Lewis Lake Campground: Opens June 15th, 2024, and closes October 14th, 2024

Madison Campground: Opens May 3rd, 2024, and closes October 19th, 2024

Mammoth Campground: Opening Date TBD

Norris Campground: Closed for 2024

Pebble Creek Campground: Closed for 2024

Slough Creek Campground: Opens June 15th, 2024, and closes September 2nd, 2024

Tower Campground: Closed in 2024

Gateway Communities

May is the start of real tourist season for the gateway towns surrounding Yellowstone, but mainly toward the end of the month. Amenities are slow to open, as many of the places in and around the park are staffed by college students or other seasonal workers. Because of this, do not expect all the restaurants to be open in the gateway towns in May. Some might be open, others will be closed. Places will also close early, often at 8 pm. Gardiner and West Yellowstone both have markets and grocery stores to pick up food, but they also close relatively early. 

Hotels will start to fill up, so do not assume you’ll be able to find a room at the last moment, especially as the month progresses. The same goes for established campgrounds outside of the park. Yellowstone is one of the most visited places in America during the summer and finding a place to stay can be a challenge without planning ahead. 

Finally, before booking a place to stay, check the dates of your stay with the opening of roads. It would be a shame to have a room in Cody, Wyoming, and not be able to enter the park yet.